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Literature Study GuidesOne Day In The Life Of Ivan DenisovichSection 3 Shukhov And The Work Site Summary

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich | Study Guide

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich | Section 3 (Shukhov and the Work Site) | Summary



This section includes some details about Shukhov's life and describes squad 104's work site. It begins with "A new year, 1951."

The narrator provides a brief account of Shukhov's past. When he was in Ust-Izhma (in Russian Asia), a regular labor camp, Shukhov was allowed to write and receive one letter a month. Now in a "special" camp for political prisoners, he's allowed only two letters a year.

Shukhov joined the Soviet army in 1941 to fight in World War II. Since then he's written and received few letters. The kolkhoz (collectivized farm) where Shukhov lived, and where his wife still lives, grows too little food for the farmers to eat, and its population is stagnant. Most people who can are leaving to find work elsewhere. Others have taken up the new craft of "carpet painting." A painted carpet (made apparently from old sheets) brings in good money the impoverished farmers desperately need. Some carpet painters who sell their wares around the country have even become somewhat rich. Shukhov wonders if once he gets out of prison he might earn a living as a carpet painter. He realizes being in the camp for so many years has robbed his ability to plan ahead; he's used to camp authorities planning for him. Yet Shukhov realizes he probably doesn't have the personality to be a good salesman. He distrusts "easy money" and would prefer learning a trade.

By now the prisoners have arrived at the power station work site, as armed escorts and guards in watchtowers keep an eye on them. The sun is rising, but Shukhov is still numb from the cold. Tiurin looks "morose" as the workday begins. Shukhov has known Tiurin for years and recognizes he's a good squad leader.

Once again the prisoners get into formation to pass through the fence toward the work site. Then the squad leaders go to the gatehouse office to get their work assignments from Der, the foreman. Although he too is a prisoner, he treats "his fellow prisoners" poorly. Tiurin takes Pavlo and Tsezar into the gatehouse office with him. While waiting, the prisoners scavenge for bits of firewood.

The area around the work site is full of debris, crumbling supplies, and rusting equipment. Squad 104 goes into the repair shop where another squad is working. Although the 104th is not allowed near the warm stove, they are fairly warm sitting inside. Shukhov eats a bit of the bread he missed at breakfast, careful not to drop a crumb. He recalls people at home shoveling abundant home-produced food into their mouths, whereas here prisoners must eat each crumb slowly if they want to survive.

Nearby the two Estonians are sharing a cigarette. Sharing everything, even food, they act like brothers, although they are not, supporting each other because of their shared nationality. At the same time Fetiukov is scrounging cigarette butts wherever he can find them. Buinovsky criticizes Fetiukov for this filthy behavior. Senka, partially deaf, wonders what the argument is about. Alyosha prays. One prisoner wishes for a snowstorm because work would be canceled that day. Shukhov thinks snowstorms are not blessings because no food is delivered to the camp while the storm is raging and because snowdrifts may block the roads. Snow days must be made up later.


The narrator uses skaz to tell Shukhov's backstory as Shukhov might have told it. A soldier recruited from a kolkhoz, or collectivized farm, he now worries the farm hasn't grown "by a single soul" in many years. Like Shukhov and other villagers, the narrator frequently refers to people as "souls," as in the number of "souls" remaining in the village. The narrator also uses slang, such as "bad eggs" to describe what the Estonians are not, and describes the weather—"Come to think of it, a snowstorm was no use to anyone"—as a zek might.

Identity and freedom are important in this section. Shukhov's former identity is revealed as he remembers his life on the kolkhoz with his wife. His long imprisonment has robbed Shukhov of much of this sense of identity, as he realizes "he'd lost the habit of planning ... [because] ... the authorities did his thinking for him." Shukhov has been so long in submission to prison officials, he sometimes feels he has lost the ability to think for himself. His thoughts also identify him as a good, simple man who wants to work and earn a decent living; mistrustful of easy money—and thus uninterested in being a carpet painter—he is honest and morally upright: a man who has never taken a bribe, does not want to engage in corruption, and still basically believes in the principles of the pure communist way of life.

Identity is addressed later in the section as Fetiukov explains, rather harshly, that a prisoner must know when to express his ideas freely and when to keep his mouth shut. Fetiukov attributes Buinovsky's "pride" for getting him into trouble during the frisking. Pride, like one's thoughts, should be kept private and not exposed to the authorities, who seek to rob this part of the prisoners' identity.

The winter cold is particularly biting as the prisoners wait for Tiurin. The cold now and the cold they'll experience throughout the day are always on the prisoners' minds. The torment of perpetual cold motivates much of the prisoners' behavior, such as collecting firewood and their contentment in taking shelter in the repair shop.

The motif of faith appears as it provides Alyosha with the serenity to experience the beauty of God's earth. Nature brings him happiness because it is God's work. Shukhov wonders, "What had [Alyosha] to be happy about?" The answer: Alyosha is a man of faith, removed from the physical, and thus able to find joy in the simple gifts of nature, such as the beauty of a sunrise even in such a bleak environment and setting.

Corruption is presented again as a common theme guiding life and survival in the camp. Tiurin is a master at working the system. When he goes to confer with Der, Tiurin is smart enough to take Tsezar with him, the implication being that he will use some of Tsezar's "package" goods to bribe Der into giving squad 104 a fairly easy assignment. Packages like Tsezar's fuel the system of corruption that allows one squad to survive with easier work while another is crushed by harder work. With corruption, however, comes loyalty. Tiurin's ability to game the system earns him high status and the loyalty and respect of his squad. As Shukhov recognizes, "You can cheat anyone you like in camp, but not your squad leader. Then you'll live." Loyalty to and from the squad leader is critical.

Bread, the symbol of survival, is important to Shukhov always and at this time. Because he missed eating bread for breakfast, Shukhov eats part of his chunk of bread while waiting in the repair shop. Shukhov's care not to drop a single crumb of his bread underscores its importance for survival as well as the meager amount prisoners receive; care and concentration while eating may make the difference between living and dying.

In this section comradeship and trust are contrasted with base self-interest. The two Estonians are like brothers. They share everything with each other because of their shared language and nationality. They depend on each other for support and at the same time behave considerately toward others. In contrast Fetiukov scrounges cigarette butts from even the dirtiest places to find enough tobacco to smoke. When Buinovsky criticizes him for it, Fetiukov defends his actions as necessary, if not laudable, for a long-term prisoner. Fetiukov is selfish and would never share as the Estonians do, nor would he trust anyone or anyone trust him.

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